The Weather Underground, a smart new documentary about this legendary splinter faction, starts off at the fractious 1969 SDS meeting, and its early scenes are full of the belief, which suffused American leftists at the time, that it was just a matter of time before the military-industrial complex came crumbling down. Intellectual Todd Gitlin (one of the original founders of SDS and the most succinct critic of the Weathermen in the film) compares their beliefs to the same ideology used by Stalin and Mao, namely that when revolutionaries like the Weatherman envision a perfect society around the corner, they become convinced that in order to get there, the deaths of "ordinary people" don't count. One of the more charming and down-to-earth ex-Weathermen interviewed for the film, Brian Flanagan, puts it even more simply: "When you feel you have right on your side you can do some pretty horrific things." This paranoid mentality - which the film shows was exacerbated by the FBI's often illegal campaign against groups like the Black Panthers - explains how this group of mostly middle-class whitebread college kids went from carrying signs to building bombs.
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Some 20 years after his heyday, Stewart appears on camera to give his testimony about that long-gone era, reading largely from his unpublished autobiography. Obsessed with fast cars and television, Stewart figured out that he could turn himself into a celebrity simply by building an easy-to-spot character in stadium crowds. It worked: At his first game, Stewart danced and flashed "V for victory" signs at the TV cameras, and afterwards, people stopped him on the street. More sporting events followed -- invariably sitting in the best seats -- and the media started to pick up on his act. After landing a Budweiser commercial, he headed to Hollywood and got an agent.
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